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Photo of Sharon Iversen, member of Hospice Board of Directors and Legacy Society.

Scott’s Restaurant in Walnut Creek was the venue for a gathering of our Legacy Society on Thursday, July 14. We honored members of the society for their generous intentions to support Hospice of the East Bay through gifts from their estates. Our guests enjoyed a delicious lunch, and heard a speech by Board member Sharon Iversen about her philosophy of giving. Here are excerpts from that speech:

Back in the dark ages, I was a registered nurse. When I started in 1964, health care was a pretty simple affair. You went to the doctor only if you had symptoms of something gone wrong. You went to the hospital for surgery, to have babies, and sometimes to die. There were no critical care units; one cared for the dying along with the acutely ill and near well. There was no Medicare or Medicaid and, for the most part, no health care insurance. My husband and I paid $150 out of pocket for the birth of our first baby and it nearly killed us. And while the idea of hospice had already blossomed in England in the 1950s, it had yet to make its way to the United States.

At that time, nursing was one of three occupations open to a woman and I thought the $360 a month for my first job was a fortune.

Fast forward some twenty odd years later and the world of health care was a very different place. A general hospital was now not the only place to deliver care: we saw specialty hospitals, outpatient departments, clinics, and hospices such as our own, which opened in 1977. All were growing by leaps and bounds.

About this time, I felt I needed a change of pace and decided to go to law school. Once finished, I become a health care attorney. I served as General Counsel to Mt. Diablo Hospital, which later merged with John Muir. My job was to advise the administration, medical and nursing staffs. Since hospitals were now part of a huge industry, I advised on everything from A to Z, abortion to zoning. However, I concentrated mostly on the clinical issues, such as risk management, end of life issues and ethics. I felt lucky because I could speak the language of “Hospitalese” and understood what nurses and physicians were facing in this very challenging world.

Some years later, at a John Muir ethics committee meeting, I met Dr. Anne Steinmann, then chair of Hospice of the East Bay. Anne asked me if I’d be interested in becoming a board member. I knew at that moment it was a perfect fit, not only because of my professional background but because of my personal life.

In 2007, my sister was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died within seven months. She was fortunate enough to be on service with Hospice of the East Bay for a short time before her death. I thought it a matter of grace that I was in the right place at the right time to be able to shepherd her to such a caring organization. She died in very good hands. I was unimaginably grateful.

Some years ago, I attended a conference billed as “Governing for Non-Profit Excellence.” One of the speakers asked us, “What do kissing and plastering walls have in common?” The answer, he said, was that they are both examples of practices that need to be repeated frequently in order to be mastered.

Well, I wasn’t quite ready to take up a trowel, but I was delighted about the kissing part. What he meant was this: it’s one thing to talk about kissing and plastering, it’s a whole other thing to do it. He said, “I don’t care what people tell me they value or what they tell me their attitudes are. If it’s not embedded in their practice, it doesn’t count and doesn’t help anyone.”

Getting your ideas right and your values in order are important, but it’s the practice—the giving of your time and your treasure, however large or small—that helps the next in line.

So I started practicing by becoming a member of the board and giving of my time. Wouldn’t you know, I received so much more than I gave…and still do. This is an outstanding organization—each and every person here is committed to making that last journey all of us will take an easier one for those they serve. But they can’t do it alone, even with Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance, because the health care industry is no longer in that enviable period where money was abundant. The percentage of care paid by federal, state and private insurance is shrinking. Our help is needed now more than ever.

Of course, by becoming an active volunteer some years ago, I knew that I was committing to give some of what little I had in treasure as well. So, when Hospice of the East Bay decided to begin the Legacy Society, I was delighted. I was already a member of another society and knew how it worked.

However, I had one stop to make before I signed on the dotted line, committing a percentage of my estate to Hospice of the East Bay. That stop was to talk with my children about it—that $150 baby and his sister now have seven children between them.

Did they feel okay with my leaving money to Hospice of the East Bay that would otherwise go to them? My daughter has always said, whenever I brought up the idea of leaving a few shekels to them, “Mom, I hope your last check bounces.” So I was pretty sure I would have their endorsement and I did.

Three weeks ago, we were privileged as a family to attend a ceremony at Bruns House, dedicating bricks and plaques to our loved ones. My sister’s name is now inscribed on a brick in the patio. As I watched my kids honoring their aunt, I realized that they too now have an incentive to practice our values as a family. I hope I’ve left them a legacy in addition to the one I’ve left for Hospice of the East Bay.

I want to thank each of you for believing in Hospice of the East Bay as I do, for giving of your time and treasure and for joining the legacy society. Above all, thank you for putting your values into practice.